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Steven Cox Featured on Entrepreneur on Fire Podcast

By | Business Philosophy, Entrepreneur Insights, Leadership, Motivational, Speaking, Start-Ups, TakeLessons.com, Uncategorized | No Comments
If you can dream it, you can do it!

If you can dream it, you can do it!

I had a great time being interviewed by John Lee Dumas of Entrpreneur on Fire.

Listen in and hear about my worst entrepreneurial moment, my big ah-ha, and a few awesome resources for entrepreneurs.

To subscribe to Entrepreneur on Fire through iTunes, go here.

Change Your Point of View – A Poem About Success

By | Entrepreneur Insights, Life Lessons, Motivational, My Writings, Speaking | One Comment

My good friend, Adam Hudson, just finished putting on an incredible event called Radius, for entrepreneurs. The whole concept is that by elevating your thinking, your radius widens and you can see things from a different point of view. Pretty cool, right?

I attended last year and he asked me to say a few words at the event this year for the group. So, I gave an update of what our business was able to accomplish, and shared how I feel I’ve just become a better human being – more grounded, and able to work through my own shit.

Radius conference

 

I also wrote a poem called Point of View for them to take away and think about. I presented it to them as a gift.

I’ll also present it to you as my gift. Hope you enjoy…

———————————

Success… we give our best.

Move to the right, then to the left,

Chasing, racing, facing our dest-iny.

We seek, to see our dreams, more clearly,

So ready, for what could be.

We want the dollar, the cash, the money.

We want to feel love from our family.

We want these blinded eyes to see,

And be, who we were meant to be.

To believe, for once, without internal doubt.

We vow, to live, to grow, and discover how.

But it’s not about, the doubt, that comes our way.

It’s not about, what we face each day,

But rather, if we make life fun, and play.

Is it a black night, or just a little gray?

It’s in what we do, and what we say, every day.

So, don’t dismay, because it’s up to you, to,

Turn the gray, into blue, to turn the old, into new,

To change your point of view.

You can change your point of view.

 

 

Success… No time to rest, we pound our chest.

We put our mind and body, to the test,

But if we’re real, we’d confess, sometimes

It feels like life is just a guess,

Of which way’s right, tonight, and which way’s wrong,

Which road do we walk, and which road’s already gone,

Which words fit into our song, of life.

It cuts like a knife. We try and try, to fly so high

Only to be shot out of the sky. Bye-bye.

And inside, it messes with our mind, we find

No release. Our doubting demons never cease.

We need, and need, before we let ourselves be at peace.

We tell ourselves, that when we reach that elusive place,

When we become more than just a face, in the crowd,

Somehow, when we feel we can keep up this frantic pace,

Then we’ll let ourselves be in a happy place.

Challenge that thought.

Make an about face.

Now is the time to be content, free from resentment.

Free to float more, and steer less. Free to love more and fear less.

Free to be the brightest star.

Free to love ourselves just as we are.

When we get real, and truth be told,

We don’t, have tomorrow, we don’t know, if we’ll grow old.

We’ve told, ourselves that we have to wait

Before we’re enough, before we let ourselves be great.

It’s today! Today is our date, there’s no debate.

Our truth is, we don’t have to wait.

That’s not how it has to be.

Right now, we can live simply, beautifully, perfectly.

You see, when we change how we decide to steer,

We can be fulfilled, right now, right here.

We can choose love instead of fear.

It’s always up to you, to,

Change the gray into blue.

To turn the old into new.

To Change… to change your point of view.

 

Success… we are blessed,

with the chance to give our best,

With our ability, to see, more than what is,

But what can be.

We have, within our power, in this hour

A new way to see.

From when we were born, until we turn back to dust

Til all our materialism turns back to rust,

When the rains of life fall, and the wind’s gust,

Trust, because you are on a cusp…

Of something new, of turning gray into blue; don’t dismay

You were made, made to lead, made to build, made for love,

Made to fill,

up your cup, and others, too,

So that they might see, from another point of view.

It’s made

Made in you, it’s made in me,

and made in us.

We make the world a better place, when we raise,

When we elevate, our own, Radius.

 

* The line, “float more, and steer less. Free to love more and fear less.” was borrowed from my friend, John Styn. Thank you for the inspiration John!

 

The Journey of Success: 5 Guidelines on Life, Love, and Business

By | Business Philosophy, Entrepreneur Insights, Life Lessons, Motivational, Speaking | No Comments

The Delta Sigma Pi chapter at San Diego State University asked me to speak to them about what I’ve learned about success, personal growth, and business.

Here are five things I’ve learned about life, love, and business. What’s great about these guidelines is that they can apply in every area of your life. They are timeless, and just as relevant for relationships as they are for startups.

  1. Take responsibility
  2. Know your outcome
  3. Prioritize
  4. Give yourself time to become awesome
  5. Commit to constant and never ending improvement

 

Give Yourself Time to Become Awesome

A Couple Pointers on Becoming a Better Presenter

By | At Work, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking | No Comments

A friend of mine asked me to watch a presentation that he needed to give to 50-60 people on a business topic and give him some feedback. While he did good, I had a couple nuggets I’ve learned along the way that I was able to share with him. Here’s the write up of my suggestions on becoming a better presenter and giving better presentations.

Public Speaking

Presentation Skills

Why bother with presentation skills?

Because as you move up in business, it becomes imperative that you can present well. In order to influence, you must be able to communicate in a way that resonates with your audience.

Let’s focus on these two items you can use immediately:

First Challenge:

When you present, your projection and energy levels tail off. You start full of energy and finish looking drained. People in the back of the room struggle to hear you.

What you can do about it:

Cognitively make a concerted effort to speak to the person in the back of the room.

  • Pick someone in the back of the room in your head, then project your voice with a particular individual in mind so you are sure they hear you.
  • Assume you are fighting for their attention and you want it.
    • Move around in a fluid, controlled manner. Movement garners attention.
    • Animate your voice by increasing the timbre of your words. Project them appropriately, but raise/lower the pitch and put emphasis on certain words.

Speak with authority.

  • Study Obama or Clinton or Reagan. Notice how they always speak with certainty. If you project certainty, your audience will pick up that vibe.

Second Challenge:

Your messaging is not concise. You ramble and give too much detail that does not add much to the conversation. This leads to people losing interest in what you’re saying.

Why you do this:

Because you’re not rehearsed well enough.

What you can do about it:

  • “Amplify the signal – minimize the noise” – meaning you should focus on a key message and work on getting rid of things out of your presentation vs. adding things in.
  • Rehearse with written notes:
    • What is your key message you want to get across? You reinforce this at the beginning and the end. Your supporting points between should also be tied to the key message.
    • What are your 2-3 supporting points of your presentation?
      • Find and use a quick story that reinforces a point is good so as long as it’s concise. Move between story and fact / both logic and emotion. It draws the audience in.
      • Do not ad lib or randomly come up with more examples. They don’t add value. You’ve already thought through your best examples and have practiced them. Stick with them.

UCSD Students: Attend the Entrpreneur’s Panel October 23rd.

By | Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Start Up San Diego | No Comments

UCSD students – come hear a few stories and get some advice on building your own company. Hosted by Brant Cooper. Yours truly will also be participating.

The mission of the UC San Diego Entrepreneur Challenge is to foster community involvement and technological innovation by bringing multi-disciplinary teams of engineers, scientists, and business-minded students together with local area entrepreneurs and professionals in order that they might shape the world of tomorrow by securing the health of San Diego’s economy today.

 

Creating Corporate Culture: Interview with John Assaraf Part 9 and 10

By | Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Start-Ups, TakeLessons.com, Videos | No Comments

John Assaraf sat down with Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons.com, to discuss what it means to create and maintain a thriving corporate culture. In this interview, Cox defines corporate culture, outlines steps entrepreneurs can take to define their company’s culture and shows how a strong culture can translate into other great gains for any organization.

Part 9 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

Part 10 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 7

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 8

Cox: Because of the belief system that we have, we do not treat people that way. Nor will we be treated that way. It’s just the value system that we had that was correct for us and it was the best thing that we’ve ever done for the culture of the company. It wasn’t planned. These sorts of serendipitous things will happen in your own organization as you grow and you find out that when push comes to shove, you’re not going to deviate from this.

Assaraf: This is what I stand for.

C: This is what I stand for. People still tell that story today in the company about how we do things. The third value we have is Build Stuff You’re Proud Of. And the story on this is, being a tech company, we had been involved, not as owners, but as workers at other tech companies where what they tried to do throughout the nineties is do just enough to make it look like they had a product to get some sucker to buy them and sell their company to another company. We decided early on that we didn’t want to be one of those sorts of companies. We wanted to do something that we could look back on and we wanted to build a site that we’re very, very proud of. That has resonated with us and kept us very, very true to what we do.

If given the choice between building things right and building things quick, we choose building it right. In the tech world, that means we move a little bit slower than others. We’ve been round and round with investors about that but at the same time, we want to build things the right way. That has expanded out from technology into every area of the company. So if you’re in Customer Support, have calls you’re proud of. If you’re in Marketing or Sales, sell things that you’re proud of, cut deals that you’re proud of. Write code that you’re proud of. All this means is contributing in such a way that it makes a positive, lasting difference in millions of people. See how now it ties in with our core purpose.

A: It ties in with your purpose. You get that?

C: So the values systems stack up and start resonating together.

A: I love this stuff.

C: This next one, this is my own personal litmus test. The way I describe it is, I want to build stuff I’m proud of. What am I proud of? This is my grandfather, he’s 92 and I want to build things that my grandfather would use and be proud of using. For me, he’s the best guy I know, the most honest guy and he’s my personal litmus test. If you can find this sort of thing for you, then you know. You’re always faced in business with so much opportunity. The big key is being able to decide what to say no to. You’ll have lots and lots of opportunities to say yes, lots of people pulling you in different directions. If you can learn to say no based on a value system, it makes the world a lot easier.

A: Make your default “no” and then move to “yes” is what I always tell people because we’re all so wanting to help everyone else. We have this opportunity and this opportunity and we need to start saying no to everything and moving towards yes and having reasons for moving towards yes, then that gives you a much easier framework to deal with. Love that.

C: Absolutely.

A: CANI!

C: CANI! You’re very familiar with that. This one is borrowed from Anthony Robbins…

A: Who borrowed it from the Japanese Kai Zen.

C: Right, it’s all borrowed and that’s okay. You don’t have to come up with these yourself but what’s important is that it’s true. And this is one of my own personal beliefs and it ties in with the innovation of the company. As a company, growth isn’t serendipitous, growth isn’t okay; it’s required. It’s a big difference. You can feel the difference even as I say that. We are expected when we’re hiring someone in they know today is great, tomorrow’s got to be better. Tomorrow after that has to be better. Not only as a company but we actually want you as a person to grow. Because we believe if we can get you to grow and to learn these life lessons and set goals, we teach people to set goals within the company, accomplish those goals, you can apply that to your personal life, apply that to your business life. In general, that makes you a happier person. Happier people are just cooler to work with.

Part 10 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

Assaraf: Let me ask you a question. When you say, today is okay, tomorrow’s gonna be better, the next day is gonna be even better than that, I want to make sure people get this distinction. It’s not that you’re not or we’re not good enough today, right? What I hear and what I know of you is, we’re capable of growing individually, professionally, personally and as a business if we have this focus on just getting better. Not from a scarcity or negative perspective; it’s from a human growth and fulfill our potential perspective. That’s the message that you share with your employees.

Cox: Exactly. If you go back to the prior value of Respect for yourself, I have no problem telling my team and them telling me and everyone in the company going, wow, we are really awesome. In fact, I expect that. We want awesome people. We want them to be able to look and say, I absolutely rock. And, that’s good enough for today. Tomorrow I am going to rock even harder. That’s just what we do as a company. We are totally accepting that we are awesome as we are, and I say that actually in a very humble way, it’s not in a bragging way. No matter how awesome we are today, what we do know is the world keeps moving. Things keep going on and part of the joy is keeping up and getting ahead.

A: And by the way, what I want to make sure that you’re all in agreement and accordance with is that these are Steven’s and his team’s values, alright? They’re not yours. If they happen to be yours, that’s great, but this isn’t about taking Steven’s and his company’s values and making them yours. This is really about identifying your own and living that truth, that purpose, that value system, so that you’re living your life for your purpose and what you stand for and what you stand against as well. Some people might say, oh my God, that’s too much pressure, I don’t want that kind of pressure. Well, he thrives in it and so do I. Other people say, oh my God, if tomorrow’s got to be better than yesterday and the day before, I’m in chaos, I don’t like that, that’s cool. But you find people in your team that that’s cool with as well so that you make your growth and your day to day life easier to handle and manage.

C: Right. Someone’s value system could be, I don’t live to work, I work to live, or something, which means I am going to limit my time to 30 hours a week. That could be someone’s value system and that’s just as relevant for them as our value systems are for us. So again, back to Lady Gaga, there is no right or wrong culture. It’s finding what’s true for you.

A: That’s the key.

C: Our final value is Perseverance. We’ve defined that as certainty in the face of obstacles. This really came from a story and I’m sure this will resonate with you guys as well. We were trying out different models and again, we were self-funded, and we were basically down to a couple paychecks left. We weren’t making a lot of money to start with. All the guys were taking a discount on what they should be earning. It was basically down to the wire and I said, guys, we either have to do something this month and make this happen or we’re not going to be around next month. So, what do you want to do? It was quiet in the room and they were all kind of sitting there and they said, well, we better work hard then. We better get back to work. It was the perseverance of not even accepting the idea that we would quit. Quitting is not an option. It’s easy to say, it’s harder to do when you’re down to the last dime, knowing that, hey, if we don’t make something happen it’s going to be a difficult situation here in just a couple weeks. And it was those sorts of things that we’ve applied in different areas of the company as well. It’s perseverance when we’ve kicked off several versions of the website and we thought it was awesome and we did testing and it completely bombed. What we did is we simply back-tracked and we tried it again. So now we have a culture of innovation where trying things is cool and the expectation of failure is okay. In other words, the idea of not trying something because it might fail, is just completely not within our value system at all.

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 7

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 8

 

Creating Corporate Culture – John Assaraf Interview Part 8

By | Business Philosophy, Company Culture, Entrepreneur Insights, Speaking, Start-Ups, TakeLessons.com, Videos | No Comments

John Assaraf sat down with Steven Cox, CEO of TakeLessons.com, to discuss what it means to create and maintain a thriving corporate culture. In this interview, Cox defines corporate culture, outlines steps entrepreneurs can take to define their company’s culture and shows how a strong culture can translate into other great gains for any organization.

Part 8 in the video series. Subscribe for email alerts when more videos are posted.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 7

 

Cox: We hire customer support reps and they are normally in college. It’s kind of a part time job, sometimes a full time job right out of school, and we say the same thing to them. Guys, this is your company as well. Your job here is not to do your job. Your job here is to please the customer but also to make sure your job gets better, to come and take it to the next level. Why? That’s what owners do. We have a whole bunch of examples of what this looks like. I’m not going to read all of them, but you can get an idea of the detail that we go into to describe what an ownership mentality looks like.

Assaraf: So that’s why you say there’s the words “Ownership Mentality” but then you’ve really taken the time to define what that means and then you find people, vendors, suppliers, who really resonate with that Ownership Mentality, whether they’re providing you with a service or whether you’re providing your customer with a service, whether you’re a guitar teacher or a piano teacher, regardless of who you’re dealing with, you look for those qualities to do business together because of the nucleus that creates.

C: Right. That’s a great segue into our second core value, which is Respect, for yourself and others. That basically means we expect people to value themselves as well as to value others highly, meaning the customer, the supplier, the service provider, everybody. It came down to an interesting story and you’ll find these in your own company as well. We were a team of five people and this was before we had done our first round of venture financing and I was funding the business and we weren’t making any money.

A: He was the bank! Many of you are the bank right now!

C: I was the bank. Believe me, I feel your pain a lot. We went five years before we took our first round. We scraped by, we bootstrapped. There was a time in our business when we were selling leads to an instructor, and this is the model we did. Very similar to Google AdWords, we’d sell on a lead acquisition type model.

A: So you were generating leads online and selling those leads to people who were guitar instructors and you’d make your money by selling those leads, so that was your initial business model that you morphed and changed, which a business will do, morph and change over time. I just want to give them some of the underlying lessons; I don’t want them to think they’ve got to be where they want to be at.

C: Right. Along those lines, a little off topic, in essence there’s something in the tech world that’s called pivoting. What that means is, you can normally expect your business, if it’s a tech business, to pivot three or four times before you get your model right. It’s very simply that you have to keep going. This is the third start up I’ve done and it still took us three pivots to figure out what the customer really really wanted out of us. So this was the second pivot we were in. First we had done a subscription model and that didn’t really work so then we did lead generation and that was this model.

There was this one particular group buying leads from us, I won’t name names, but they made up about 30% of our business and they were just buying a tank-load of leads from us. We had one single customer service rep at the time and her name was Lori. Lori was on the phone with this person, we’ll call her “Jill”, her name wasn’t “Jill”, but she was on the phone with “Jill” and what happened was “Jill” couldn’t get her computer working right. Lori was trying to help her but she just had a browser from the 1800’s and Lori said, “I think if you update your browser everything would be taken care of” and this person said, “Oh, it’s my fault? I’ll have you know that your site sucks and you probably don’t even know what you’re talking about because you’re just a customer support rep and I went to Brown. Do you know what Brown is? Brown is an Ivy League school. Do you know what that is?” and starts berating Lori right there in front of the team.

We were a team of five; she made up 30% of our sales. It was at that moment in time, all of us kind of looked at each other and the lady demanded to talk to me. So I got on the phone and I said, “Hey, I just want to let you know that you are now making me choose between my team and you and you are going to lose that battle every time.”

A: Even though she was providing you with 30% of your revenue?

C: We fired her on the spot.

A: The client?

C: We fired the client on the spot.

More from this series:

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 1

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 2

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 3

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 4

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 5

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 6

Creating Corporate Culture – Part 7